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Clara Darrow and Votes for Women


Elizabeth Cady Stanton once confided to her journal, "...we are sowing winter wheat, which the coming spring will see sprout, and other hands than ours will reap and enjoy."

Stanton spoke not only for herself, but for the thousands of women who dedicated their hearts and souls to the cause of women's suffrage yet would not live to see their dream fully realized; women like North Dakota's Clara Darrow.

Women's suffrage had first taken root in North Dakota as early as the 1889 Constitutional Convention. But several failed attempts sapped the energy of the movement. By the first decade of the twentieth century, organized suffrage activity was virtually non-existent in the state. By 1912, that began to change.

Clara Darrow, the wife of a prominent Fargo doctor, made it her mission to rally the state's women in the cause for suffrage. She invited the internationally-renowned suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst to Fargo to help organize a statewide suffrage movement. In early February of 1912, Darrow, Pankhurst and other local supporters met at the home of Clara's daughter, Mary Darrow Weible. Out of that meeting, the Votes for Women League of North Dakota was born. At the first statewide conference, members elected Mrs. Darrow as president. Her daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, accepted positions as vice-president and campaign manager. The Darrow women and other dedicated workers blazed a trail, forming local chapters across the state to garner support for women's suffrage. They organized Chautauquas, fairs, meetings, lobbied the press and politicians and even brought in special speakers like Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Clara was not one to simply sit back and delegate duties. She accompanied Dr. Shaw through her entire Dakota campaign. As Shaw later wrote, Clara took "every burden from my shoulders so efficiently that I had nothing to do but make speeches." Her talents extended beyond organizational skills. In 1914, Clara penned a pamphlet entitled "I Want to Vote," delivered at the Grand Theater in Fargo. It garnered so much attention it was later presented at the national suffrage conference in Nashville, TN.

Darrow's work and dedication laid an important foundation that would eventually lead the movement to victory, but like Elizabeth Cady Stanton's prophetic words, it was not a victory she would personally enjoy. Clara Darrow died on this date in 1915, before North Dakota women had gained the right to vote.

But her two daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, continued the fight began by their mother. When Governor Frazier signed the North Dakota women's suffrage bill two years later, both of Clara's daughters witnessed the historic event.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Eriksmoen, Curt. "Eriksmoen Column: Dr. Darrow's Family Had Impact on N.D." The Bismarck Tribune June 22, 2008

Harper, Ida Husted, ed. The History of Woman Suffrage. Vol. VI: National American Women Suffrage Association, 1922.

"Photograph Collection: Gov. Frazier Signing Woman Suffrage Bill ", Institute for Regional Studies, North Dakota State University Libraries http://digitalhorizonsonline.org/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/uw&CISOPTR=1877&CISOBOX=1&REC=3.

Shaw, Anna Howard. The Story of a Pioneer. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1915.